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Friday, September 10, 2021

Remembering 9/11 on 20th Anniversary - Anandabazar Patrika Coverage

I wrote an article on 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks for Anandabazar Patrika, the Bengali language daily newspaper with largest circulation. It was published in the "International" section of Septermber 10, 2021 edition. Click on the thumbnail below for the entire page.



Here is a rough translation of the piece:

9/11: Unforgettable moments burnt into my mind

Supratim Sanyal

Washington DC 10 September 2021 08:21

September 11, 2001 started as a comfortable sunny Tuesday morning. I was at work early. It was just short of 9 AM when a friend and colleague returned from the coffee room saying he heard something about a plane crashing into the North Tower of World Trade Center in Manhattan. I assumed it was yet another mis-piloted Cessna diving through a window, perhaps with a couple of casualties. Little did I know in a few minutes I would witness a life-changing set of events in fear, horror and confusion.

Suddenly there was great commotion from the lobby of our office. We ran out and saw everyone staring at the TV,  jaws dropped and apprehension in their eyes. It was 9.03 AM, the second plane had just crashed into the South Tower. Both towers had deep gashes and were burning.

Panic spread among us. We were quickly asked to head home. I wasted no time and hit an unusually quiet I-270. Suddenly two F-16s streaked across overhead at full combat speed. Andrews AFB is very close by and  warplanes were not new to me, having been to several air shows. But this was no airshow! My heart began to pound. At that moment, it occurred to me

I floored the gas and reached home in record time. We were expecting our first child any day at the time. Naturally my wife was also very anxious. I turned the TV on and watched Aaron Brown do his best trying to cover the incredible events unfolding. 

Suddenly - the Pentagon on the TV screen! One side has a great hole and is burning. Thick black smoke. The Pentagon was also hit by a big passenger jet - like the Twin Towers. I later learned that militants hijacked the LAX-bound American Airlines flight from IAD just 35 minutes after takeoff. The plane, carrying 74 passengers, crashed into the west wall of the Pentagon at 9.37 AM.

Barely 31 miles from my house, the attack on the Pentagon sent chills through our bodies. I started to consider jumping into the truck with my wife and speeding away north and west towards West Virginia or Pennsylvania. It seemed that way we just might increase our chances of survival in an unfolding war.

Of course around the same time the heroic passengers of United 93 decided to take on the hijackers and crashed in Pennsylvania at 10.03 AM. That airplane would have been taken out anyway by the two fighter jets if they hadn't crashed. The two F-16 pilots had every intention of flying their fighters into the passenger jet, having had no time to arm their fighters before scrambling.

My wife and I visited the Pentagon that Saturday. The sight will always stay in my head, burnt in, unforgettable.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Save State of VirtualBox Virtual Machines on APC UPS power loss shutdown by apcupsd Linux Daemon

APC Back-UPS ES 8 Outlet 550VA 120V BE550G

The pets in my virtual machine zoo (SANYALnet Labs) lived inside two Dell PowerEdge blades (a 2950 with 8 Xeon cores and 16 threads + a R710 with 12 Xeon cores 24 threads) for over a decade. Finally deciding to do something about the resultant electric bills, I hit eBay and eventually found a Gigabyte H410M motherboard along with an interesting processor: 8-core 16-thread Intel Intel(R) Core(TM) i7-10700T. The "T" translates to "low power". Intel's claims stands up to measurement. The i7-10700T indeed draws about 35 watts at light loads and runs at 105 watts sustained at 85% or more processor usage when all the virtual machines are fired up. The new build with all virtual machines running under Oracle Virtualbox now draws a total of around 150 watts.

This new low power usage means I have now many minutes of battery backup from the connected APC UPS, enough to actually save the states of all the virtual machines before powering the physical machine down.

The apcupsd daemon has been around for ages and is well documented all over the internet. I followed the path of others and with a little bit of tweaking got what I wanred. When the APC UPS signals the system is on battery power, a script is executed that takes a snapshot and saves the state of all the running virtual machines. Other VMs not in running state are not affected.

The Gigabyte H410 motherboard with Intel Core i7-10700T processor and 32GB of RAM runs VirtualBox virtual appliances under Ubuntu 20.04 LTS (5.4.0-80-generic kernel at the time of writing). apcupsd - the APC UPS software for Linux is available from the Ubuntu repositories and easily installed using "apt-get install apcupsd". The version running at the time of writing is "3.14.14-3build1". Here is what "apcaccess status" tells me about my UPS (including incorrect Load % and Timeleft which I don't really care about as long as enough time is left to take snapshots of and save states of all the hosted virtual machine appliances):

I learned by skimming through the man pages that the apcupsd daemon invokes a "/etc/apcupsd/apccontrol" script which handles specific UPS events. On AC mains power fail, the events raised in order are (example of actual sequence with timestamps):

 On closer observation, I found that a new instance of apccontrol script is started off every time an event is sensed by apcupsd, even if prior invocations of apccontrol have not completed. Bummer! This means that if we write a script to start to take snapshots and save current states of hosted running virtual appliances when the "power failure" event occurs, the "system shutdown" event will initiate an immediate shutdown 11 seconds later even if the virtual machines have not been saved yet!

Fortunately, the solution was easy. apccontrol executes scripts with the same name as the events placed in the /etc/apcupsd directory. The event names are listed neatly in a case statement in apccontrol. So, first I created a script called "/etc/apcupsd/do-nothing-event-handler.sh" :


Then, I deleted all existing event handling scripts except "onbattery" and added symbolic links to do-nothing-event-handler.sh. The remaining "onbattery" script is the only one I use to save snapshots and states of the virtual machines and then shut down the machine. Here is what my /etc/apcupsd directory now looks like:


Here is the "onbattery" script that does what I need on AC mains powerfail and switchover to UPS battery power.


The /root/clear-kernel-memory-cache.sh script invoked from "onbattery" reclaims unused memory from the cache. I do this in the hope of maximizing memory and avoiding too much disk activity during the process of taking snapshots and saving states of the the running virtual machines. 

and finally, here is the save-vms-on-ups-power.sh script that is invoked from onbattery to identify the running virtual machines, take snapshots with suitable comments, and save the states. This script is a tweak on the wonderful script I found at ubuntuforums.org.



Monday, February 1, 2021

The National Anthems of countries I have visited or lived in (updated as the list grows)

The National Anthems of countries I have visited or lived in (updated as the list grows).

India

Born here!


Hong Kong (United Kingdom)



Republic of Korea (South Korea)



Japan

Absolutely beautiful national anthem.



United States of America

Yeah my country!



Canada



Mexico





The Bahamas



Dominican Republic


Panama


United Kingdom



Scotland

Note: as of January 2021, Scotland remains a constituent of the United Kingdom, though Scotland strongly wishes to remain a part of the European Union, which is not possible after Brexit. The song "Flower of Scotland" is often played in situations where independent countries play the national anthem.


France


Germany


Switzerland


Italy


Vatican


Russia

The Russian national anthem is among the most touching I have heard, especially with a crowd singing it.


Mongolia


China


Iceland

Like anything related to Iceland and her people, their national anthem is among the most beautiful in the world.


Austria


Czechia


Slovakia

One of my favorites!


Hungary



Croatia


Bosnia and Herzegovina


Slovania


Jamaica 



Georgia (the Caucasian country) 



Turkey


Greece  


Ukraine  



...

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Jan 20, 2021 Biden-Harris Presidential Inauguration - Anandabazar Patrika Coverage

As of August 27, 2020, Donald Trump had lied 22,247 times in 1,316 days. After fairly and squarely losing to Joe Biden in the most secure presidential election in American history, Trump started to average 50 lies a day overwhelming those who had been attempting to disseminate truth for the last four years. Trump's biggest fraudulent and evidence-free claims of a stolen election were believed by millions of Americans, resulting in the shameful spectacle on January 6, 2021 of an attempted insurrection to sabotage democracy in the United States by a violent mob incited by Trump. Domestic terrorism was on full display in the US Capitol, which I had attempted to report also in Anadabazar Patrika

It seems Trump's biggest asset is an uncanny ability to fool almost half the country all the time. A champion con-artist, he instinctively knows where to drive the biggest wedges to widen racial cracks that have always existed in the United States, feeding into white rage in a fast-changing country where the most accomplished people live in cultural and ethnic melting pots in diverse 21st-century post-industrial urban economies driven by data sciences, bleeding-edge research and development in technology services. It is unfortunate nearly 72 million people bought into the idea of coastal "elites" stealing America after endless repetition of provocative quotes on Fox news, and later obscure television channels like OANN and NewsMax which saw jumps in viewership when even Fox news turned out to be lacking in the degree of dissemination of ridiculous conspiracy theories resulting in socially-engineered radicalization of the kind long practiced by global terrorist organizations.

Psychologically damaged, devoid of decency and incapable of strength and maturity to invite the incoming President and Vice-President elected by the people to the White House and accompanying them to their inauguration, Trump designed a grand farewell of himself by himself, directing the military to give him a 21-gun salute and play "Hail to the Chief." He left hours before the incoming President and Vice-President were sworn in, to take advantage of taxpayer-funded Airforce One to fly him out without having to request use of the aircraft from the new administration as is the norm. He commanded the Airforce One to fly low over his private property, and then landing at his private residence, the outgoing single-term twice-impeached 45th President of the United States went around in a motorcade driving slowly basking in the glory of crowds holding up signs like "Fuck Biden". In the meanwhile, the 46th President of the United States was being sworn in in the presence of the 42nd, 43rd and 44th Presidents of the United States in a cheerful ceremony broadcast live across the world. Ironically, the absence of the misfit 45th was received with an overarching sense of relief - it was indeed a good thing Trump was not there for the inauguration.

Here is my report in the Anandabazar of the historic events of January 20, 2021 where America breathed a sigh of relief and welcomed the first woman Vice President of the United States, a woman who is also not white.

Click twice to zoom in completely:

Simple, Free Image and File Hosting at MediaFire

Simple, Free Image and File Hosting at MediaFire




Friday, January 8, 2021

Jan 6, 2021 Donald Trump Incited Violent Insurrection Riots at the US Capitol - Anandabazar Patrika Coverage

On Jan 6, 2021, Donald Trump incited his insurrectionist supporters to acts of terrorism in violent rioting, storming and occupation of the US Capitol to attempt to overturn his decisive loss to Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential elections which were the most free, fair and healthy in the history of the United States. This came about after 61 cases he took to court with bogus claims devoid of any evidence of fraud were thrown out by judges, and his subsequent attempts at browbeating state administrations into upending the people's verdict failed. Responding to Trump's call to "take back" the country using strength, a mob of insurgents waving Trump flags, confederate and right-wing extremist symbols, pro-Nazi messages and such, the mob of Trump supporters consisting of members of QANON, Proud Boys and white-supremacist groups overwhelmed the Capitol police, breached the building’s security, stormed the Capitol and halted the constitutional proceedings to certify Trump's defeat. When the acts of terrorism commenced, lawmakers had to put on gas masks and were evacuated to safety. The DC Mayor ordered a curfew at 6PM and eventually law enforcement regained control.

My reporting on this failed attempt at disrupting democracy was published in Anandabazar Patrika, the most circulated Bengali language (my mother tongue) daily on Jan 8, 2021 as two different articles, one on page 1 and another on page 9. Here are the two articles, all content (C) ABP Private Ltd.

 



Saturday, January 2, 2021

Utqiaġvik (Barrow), Alaska | A trip to the Arctic Winter Wonderland

Supratim Sanyal's Blog: Whale Bone Arch, Bowhead Whale Bone, Boat and Moon at Utqiaġvik (Barrow), Alaska (C) 2020 Supratim Sanyal

This is the story of us East-coast suburbanites from greater Washington, DC spending a week near the North Pole inside the Arctic Circle - at 71.3875° N, 156.4811° W.

A five-and-half hour flight from Washington, DC's Dulles Intl. (IAD) to Seattle-Tacoma International (SEA) and another three-hour flight to Ted Stevens Anchorage International (ANC), and then a one-and-half hour flight got us to Wiley Post - Will Rogers Memorial Airport (BRW) at Utqiaġvik, previously known as Barrow. With layovers, it had taken us two days to get from 38°N to 71°N - the same time we took to get home from Beijing via Moscow! 

Image (C) The Weather Channel
Located 330 miles deep into the Arctic Circle, this northernmost Iñupiat settlement in Polar climate zone has no road to it. Like Iceland, everything associated with regular life in the lower 48 states has to be flown in year round or shipped in during just the two warm months of July and August when Utqiaġvik is not ice-locked. The local Iñupiat folks, however, have no problem living in this harshest of environments as subsistence whale hunting and fishing provide them with food and raw materials for thousands of years. The great festival of Nalukataq is held over multiple days in late June celebrating end of the spring whaling season. This is when people are tossed in the air from sealskin trampolines held by others.

Slightly above latitude 71 degrees north, the sun set for the last time this winter on Wednesday November 18, 2020. It will pop up briefly over the horizon again for the first sunrise on January 22, 2021 at 1:16 PM. The Iñupiaq will celebrate the end of the Polar Night after 66 days with huge bonfires and fireworks lighting up the sky, singing and dancing to traditional drummers. Till then, there is what the locals call "civil twilight" - a twilight lasting about three hours from around 11:00 AM to 2 PM while the sun hovers about 6 degrees below the horizon unable to rise. While all the pictures in this post that have a somewhat lit sky were taken in this window, 20 out of 24 hours in a day in Utqiaġvik look like this (the object in the sky is the moon):

Utqiaġvik polar night in Barrow in late December (c) 2020 Supratim Sanyal

The following time-lapse video of 24 hours on Jan 3, 2021 was downloaded from Utqiaġvik (Barrow) Sea Ice Webcam. It illustrates the total polar night darkness except the brief "civil twilight".

The Iñupiaq have been living in Utqiaġvik and surrounding even more remote villages for over 4,000 years. Like central Asian nomads, survival is based on utilization of almost non-existent local resources and  animals: whales, seals, walruses and caribous. They hunt whales, especially enormous bowhead whales (the longest living mammals with lifespans of over 200 years), from large walrus-skin canoes called umiaq. Sealskin is often used for smaller qayaq boats. They are always on the watch for and retreat from polar bears, the biggest threat around these parts. 

The Iñupiaq used to build and live in igloos and shelters built from ribs of bowhead whales, covered with sealskin or caribou skin. Their villages included large community shelters, called qargi, for social gatherings, ceremonies, repairing boats, teaching skills to youngsters and so on. They traveled and transported stuff (bowhead whales typically weigh in the 60 ton range) on dog sleds called qamutiik pulled by Inuit dogs. Their partnership with canines originates from an ancient time when humans and wolves had the same problems to solve in a place where social cooperation is mandatory for survival.

Change (whether it may be called "progress" is debatable) has come to the ancient people who now live in American-style houses, drive snowmobiles and cars instead of dog-sleds, listen to 91.9Mhz KBRW-FM, and shop at groceries that would give our local Wegman's fair competition in the range of Americana on the shelves. Climate change continues to inexorably dilute the ancient way of life. Traditions are fortunately still valued. We had the opportunity to crawl into a real igloo built by a Iñupiaq family in the front yard of their modern single-family house, and taste some bowhead and beluga whale meat.

COVID-19 Testing Center, Utqiaġvik (Barrow), Alaska (c) 2020 Supratim Sanyal
COVID-19 Testing Center, Utqiaġvik

We lived under a sky devoid of the Sun for a full week. We interacted with a total of about six local people during the entire time, only because we did not see many people out and about in the frigid winter, and the Heritage Center and Gift Shop etc. were all closed due to the pandemic. Our photography equipment consisted of three old cell phones designed to operate in normal ambient light and within 32F to 95F. They faced dual challenges of extremely low light resulting in grainy pictures, and protective circuitry shutting them down within minutes of exposure to double-digit negative temperatures.

Grainy Low-Light Cell Phone Picture at Utqiaġvik, Alaska (c) 2020 Supratim Sanyal

The folks I chatted with include three cabbies, a gentleman at the front desk of the inn we stayed at, a couple of people in the grocery store and a wonderful lady with a pickup truck who helped us find the igloo. All the pieces of information in this post are from them, which I later looked up to learn a bit more (references at the bottom). We did see the aurora borealis, but they were faint and my attempts at taking pictures with a cell phone prone to low-temperature shutdowns were disastrous. Here is a picture similar to what we did see, twitted by a different photographer:

In the Google Earth view below, the yellow line traces Washington, DC to Seattle to Anchorage to Utqiaġvik. The red line (which, obviously, we did not travel on) traces Utqiaġvik to 90° N, 135° W - geographic North Pole. Image (C) Google.

Google Earth view of Washington DC to Seattle to Anchorage to Barrow (c) google


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